Letting Go

It has been said, I think it was in the movie ‘Forrest Gump’, that “in order to move forward, you have to leave the past behind” or something along the same idea.  I admit to having problems with letting go of what happened in my younger years, especially during times when my mental illness flares up especially bad.  During such times I have a very hard time coming to accept that my life did not turn out how I remotely imagined it would when I was sixteen and looking ahead to the vast expanse of years that was ahead.  At that age, I pictured that I would be doing something in medical research and married with at least a couple of children and living in some large metroplex by the time I turned 35.  Like many intelligent kids that could be classified as somewhat ‘nerdy’, I dreamed of the day I would move out of my hometown of less than 500 people and onto bigger and better things.  Like most of the few close friends I had, I so desperately wanted out of Nebraska.  I figured there was nothing here for me in the science and medicine fields and I would be wasting my life if I stayed behind.  Well, time has a way of making fools of even the smartest of us.

I never left Nebraska while all the friends from high school I stayed in contact with did.  In fact, none of the friends I made in college stayed in state either.  I didn’t end up working in any scientific or medical field for even one day of my life.  I certainly never got married or had kids.  I never even worked in a job that would require me to graduate high school for any real length of time, and I essentially failed at those jobs.  In spite of my illness, I retained almost all of my natural intelligence even though now my ability to work under stress and read anyone ‘between the lines’ was completely gone.  Any of these instances, let alone all of these put together, were serious blows to my pride and ego.

For the first several years of my mental illness, I agonized over where I went wrong.  I retained my natural intelligence yet I couldn’t do well in even minimum wage work.  It was baffling to my caseworkers at Vocational Rehab that I was so smart yet couldn’t handle any real stress.  For a long time, I thought I just wasn’t working hard enough and that work was supposed to suck.  I had spent my entire life hearing adults complain about their jobs as if their misery was something they took pride in.  So I just tried harder and attempted to abandon any idea that I was supposed to enjoy work or even life for that matter.  In time I came to believe I was doomed to be a failure at working a regular job.

For the next couple of years, I threw myself into my writing.  I was working part time at the courthouse as a janitor by this time.  I came to believe that the only way I could ‘make something of myself’ was to write a decent selling book.  I knew that the odds were against me as less than one percent of even published writers would make above poverty level if they relied solely on their writing work.  Well, that didn’t work either.  I self published a couple books of poetry, a book about my experiences as a mentally ill person in a ‘chronically sane world’, and even wrote rough drafts for two novels.  Found out the hard way that I have almost no talent for writing fiction.  I don’t even like reading fiction, especially modern fiction.  Even though I sold a few dozen copies of my mental illness book, the others didn’t sell at all.  So for a few years after that, I felt like a failure as a writer.

Now that the traditional writer door had been rudely slammed in my face, I became very depressed and angry.  I couldn’t understand what was the point of retaining my intelligence and not being able to use my abilities to even support myself, let alone help others.  I couldn’t figure any of this out.  I just couldn’t let go of what this illness cost me.  Occasionally I still find myself angry over what I lost.  I had the example of what I could have, and should have, been in the person of my older brother.  He is currently working as an electrical engineer for a defense contractor, making more money per year in his mid 30s than my parents ever made at any point in their careers, living in a excellent neighborhood in a metroplex outside of our home state, married to an intelligent woman (who also is an engineer), and has four children that he’s absolutely devoted to.

I suppose it’s wrong to be envious of him, though a part of me sometimes is.  I know as kids, I actually got better grades in school and read more books than he did.  When I’m in the grips of my mental illness, I often find myself thinking our lives could have been similar.  When I’m seriously in the grips of the illness and feeling nothing but anger and hostility, I find myself thinking our lives could have been easily reversed with me doing the work of my dreams and him being mentally ill.  Fortunately that doesn’t happen often.

When I’m not caught in the grasp of the illness, I find it very easy to let go of my past and move forward.  I have found an outlet of sorts though blogging.  Sure I don’t have thousands of visitors every day like some blogs here on wordpress.  No I’m not known outside of my family, my current hometown, my handful of friends, and people who follow and/or happen to stumble on these writings.  No, I haven’t made even one cent off these writings on this blog.  Sure, I’m dependent on the government for my medications and even my living.  Yet, when I am doing well, I have completely accepted all the aspects of my mental illness and have moved forward.  It is now only the small minority of times when I’m in the grips of the illness that I have to worry about stumbling and dwelling on everything that has happened over the last twenty years.

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Feeling Good With Mental Illness

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Been feeling pretty good for the last few weeks.  I haven’t had my traditional summer break down.  Hopefully I can get through the next couple weeks without any issues.  I usually start feeling better in early September with the passing of the warmest weather of summer.  I never have dealt well with the heat of summer.  I had problems with summer heat even before I had a mental illness diagnosis.  I have always enjoyed winter and spring more than summer.

It might help that I really haven’t been outside much this summer.  When I do exercise it’s usually walking the hallways of my apartment complex.  I didn’t go outside much this summer so I was never truly exposed to the heat and humidity.  I have driven less this summer and driving does sometimes cause me aggravation.  I definitely try to avoid driving anywhere when I’m going through excessive paranoia and depression.

I think the change in psych medications has helped me greatly this summer.  I was having flare ups every several weeks before I switched over.  Haven’t had any prolonged breakdowns since.  I switched over to a medication my DNA testing said would really benefit me.  I know I have been less physically active but I have also been more mentally stable this summer than previous years.  It’s a pity that I have to choose between physical health and mental stability.  But years ago my only options would be long term hospitalization with no way to alleviate my symptoms or homelessness.

In spite my previous problems I am still hopeful for the future.  Of the three medications I am currently on, two of them didn’t exist even five years ago.  The DNA tests that told me what medications would be most effective didn’t exist until recently.  When I was first diagnosed in 2000 we had to try medications at random and hope that something took.  We were wandering in the dark in that regard.  I am glad that I wasn’t born in 1930 instead of 1980 with this diagnosis.  Back then my only treatments may have been long term hospitalizations and electroshock therapy.  As it is I can essentially live alone, granted with a government sponsored disability pension and taxpayer sponsored medical treatment.  But it could be that this route is cheaper than long term hospitals like the 1950s.  Being on anti psych medication, having a small routine, having enough money to cover food, rent, and minor entertainment, living on my own, etc. is certainly more humane than being long term hospitalized, prison, homeless, or dead.  For most of human history I would have been dead with this illness before my 36th birthday.  As it is my worst problems now are occasional flare ups and my sleep apnea.  I am thankful for medical science and it’s advances.  I probably have a shorter life expectancy with this mental illness than I would normally, but I plan on staying around for awhile and seeing what I can accomplish in spite of this illness.

When I first applied for disability insurance ten years ago, I pretty much thought my life was over.  I thought I would be regulated to a short and brutal life of being anonymous, poor, tormented, and unknown outside of family and a few friends.  I didn’t plan on writing a blog about the experiences I’ve had over the years.  But even with this diagnosis I didn’t want to waste my talents.  I didn’t want my losing my shot at a career and a family to have been in vain.  I didn’t want this mental illness to destroy everything.  That’s why I blog as much as I do.  I suppose if I knew anything about making videos I would start a small youtube channel about life with a mental illness.  But that is probably a future project.

 

Weight Loss And Mental Illness Revisited

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Winter is normally not a time people think about diet and exercise outside of a New Year’s Resolution.  These well intended resolutions to strive for better health usually don’t make it past the second week of January before old habits come back.  I think this is because few people don’t give enough time for positive change to take effect.  Far too many people think that adopting good habits are merely a matter of making a decision and acting on that decision.  The fact that highs and lows, wins and losses, up days and down days are not taken into consideration.  This is why so many people give up on good intentions after a couple rough days.  Very few people make allowances for setbacks and screw ups.

For my diet and exercise routine, the second half of 2015 was one setback after another.  I didn’t exercise enough, I was under too much stress, I ate too much, I got out of the habit of keeping track of what I ate, I quit lifting weights, and I wasn’t getting consistent sleep. Consistent sleep helps with weight loss and mental stability.  Without consistent sleep, hormones can become out of balance and that alone can mess with weight loss.  I gained at least 30 pounds from early July to New Year’s Eve precisely because things like exercise, sleep, stress levels, and eating were not consistent.  For most of the summer and fall of 2015 I was pulling two all nighters per week on average.  I’d try to sleep during the days but it just wasn’t the same.  I didn’t have enough sleep and I also didn’t have the quality of sleep I needed for weight loss or mental stability.  I didn’t get the consistent good nutrition I needed either.  Looking back on July to December of last year, it’s no wonder I went in reverse.  I’m also not surprised that I had two nervous breakdowns.  Fortunately I didn’t have to go to the hospital either time.

But since the first of January I have consciously made choices for better health.  I don’t pull all nighters any more.  I don’t skip taking my medications.  I take more time to relax and not feel guilty for having a small amount of time every day to clear my mind.  I exercise for at least 10 minutes every day rather than go hard for two days and take a day off like I was in the fall.  I’m back to lifting weights three times a week and I’m noticing improvements after only a few weeks.  I eat when I’m hungry and never just because the clock tells me it’s breakfast or dinner time.  Somedays I’ll have my last meal of the day by 5pm.  And others I won’t eat “breakfast” until 11 am.  I also make far more mental notes on what I’m eating.  I don’t track as strictly now because I know how many calories most foods have just by looking at the serving sizes and the labels.  But it took over a year and half of hard tracking to get that level of knowledge.

As a result of my efforts, I’ve lost seven pounds since January 1.  I want to eventually lose 150 more pounds.  But this is a life long commitment to a lifestyle change, not just a diet to be followed and endured for six months and then discarded once a goal has been met.  Overall since I started this lifestyle overhaul I’m down 35 pounds since March 2014.  The road has had detours and potholes along the way.  But I never gave up the dream of a healthier body and a more stable mind even when it seemed nothing was going right.

Thoughts On 2015 and Looking Ahead to 2016

Another year has come to pass.  We humans have survived yet another lap around the mother star.  2015 has had, like all years, it’s ups and downs.  Some really cool stuff happened like the sending a space probe to Pluto, vertically landing a rocket (I knew I should have bought SpaceX stock several months ago), and discovering water on Mars are just a few of the highlights I can think of right off hand.  This was ‘the future year’ of Back To The Future II.  My enjoyment of the internet and wearable electronics outweigh my disappointment of not having a flying car and not having a computerized Ronald Reagan taking my order at a 1980s nostalgia restaurant.

Looking back on 2015, I accomplished most of my goals.  I set goals every year instead of resolutions.  I actually write down my goals (i.e. make at least 30 blog posts, get my amateur radio license, get rid of my clutter, etc.) and I rewrite them at the end of every month in a journal just to remind myself to keep going.  The two goals I’m most proud of are getting my Amateur radio license and having more visitors to this blog in 2015 than 2014.  The only real goal I didn’t accomplish was losing another sixty pounds.  I started off well as I lost fifteen pounds in the winter months to start 2015.  But things fell apart about late May.  Having a college buddy visit for a whole week in June when we went out to eat and hit sports bars several nights in a row didn’t help the cause.  Things got even worse after the week in the Black Hills for Matt’s wedding.  I’m not blaming my lack of staying on track with diet and exercise on my best friend but friends do sometimes get you in trouble.  But those are the friends you should hang onto.  If the worst Matt causes me to do is eat like a horse for much of a summer, well there are worse things he could have involved me in.  But he’s one of these tall guys who’s skinnier than a rail and can eat whatever he wants and not gain an ounce.  He’s only a few pounds heavier than when he graduated college thirteen years ago.  I simply won’t even try to keep up with guys like him anymore.  In August, my last living grandparent died.  Went through several weeks of pulling all night internet research and computer game marathons at least three nights per week.  That caused even more weight gain and mental health issues.  My car wreck in late October didn’t help the effort any as it made exercise nearly impossible as I had a few weeks of chronic back pain.  But that’s all cleared now.  It wasn’t until mid November did things return to a sense of normal.  And now I’m where I started 2015, at least weight wise.

I also decided to get somewhat more cultured in 2015.  To this end I watched a few foreign movies on Netflix.  Also watched some classic movies like Citizen Kane, some Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, and saw 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The only Stanley Kubrick movie I saw previously was Full Metal Jacket.  I guess my impression of 2001 was it looked like a mashup of Jane Goodall, Buckminster Fuller, and Carl Sagan on bad acid trips.  This was the sixties after all.

For 2016 goals, I want to lose at least sixty pounds.  I also want to post to this blog at least forty times.  I want to have more visitors to this blog in 2016 than 2015. I want to write poetry again as I’ve been lazy about that for two years.  I want to revive some of my older writing ideas.  In years past I wrote rough drafts for two truly lousy novels. I’m going to see if I can find those old files and dust off the cobwebs.I want to continue to save at least ten percent of my monthly pay.  I’m saving up in part because I want to take a couple good old fashioned American road trip in a few years.  I haven’t been to the East Coast before.  That is one place I want to visit.  I’d love to see autumn in New England and visit some of the old Revolutionary and Civil War battle sites in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  Sometime within the next five to seven years I’d love to visit the Deep South too.  I have a couple college friends from Alabama who are always raving about the barbecue places and good diners down there.  Here in Nebraska, we don’t really have a specialty besides steaks and prime rib.  In short I have a few goals for 2016 and beyond.

 

Confessions of a Schizophrenic and Christmas

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Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, and Happy Birthday Sir Isaac Newton!  In short, just have a good day overall regardless where you live or how you believe.  I spent a few days in my childhood home village in rural Nebraska.  Didn’t really go anywhere because there really isn’t that many places to go there.  My parents and I had our Christmas celebration this afternoon over ham and pumpkin pie.  I hadn’t been anywhere outside of my current hometown for any real length since my grandmother’s funeral.  I almost forgot how much I enjoy road trips and traveling.  This was the first Christmas I didn’t have any living grandparents.  But most people lose their grandparents long before they hit their thirties.

Overall, besides of a short lived but hard hitting psychotic break a few days ago, this year was a quiet and rather uneventful holiday season.  I was purposely avoiding shopping malls and box stores.  Things are beginning to get back to more normal with my life.  Had my first psychotic break of 2015 in early October that was rather nasty but thank God short lived. Unfortunately, my psychotic breaks involved a lot of anger and shouting.  I never developed the ability to just break down and sob for my break downs.  I think many men with mental illness take out their issues on others in scary and unsettling ways.  For me, it’s actually a cry for help and desire for releasing tensions instead of wanting to come across as threatening and dangerous.

I am afraid that after my family passes away I’ll lose a major source for releasing tension and anxiety.  They are also a source of interesting and intelligent conversation as they are quite intelligent too.  Tragically I don’t relate that well to most people because I am not interested in the mundane and the issues of daily living.  I just cannot stand to rehash current events for hours on end.  I see five minutes of a minor news story that gets replayed dozens of times over a few days of a news cycle and I no longer wish to discuss it.  I also have little desire to complain about anything I can’t do anything about.  That’s why I don’t vent about politics, current events, the failures of my favorite sports teams, etc.  And it’s almost painful for me to listen to conversations between average people.  Especially so when people bring up the same problems over and over they have no interest in making better.  I fear the death of my family members as much as I fear the death of my best friends.

I have never gotten violent during even the worst of my breakdowns, at least never to other people.  When I was in college I used to punch wood doors and shelves.  But I have never gotten violent towards anyone even after almost twenty years of mental health problems.  I haven’t been in a fight with anyone since I was thirteen years old, and most of those fights were with my older brother and cousins.  I am afraid of winding in prison or getting seriously hurt in the wrong circumstances during a future breakdown.  In my case while the fire burns hot and bright, it also goes out quite quickly.  I only hope symptoms and problems with schizophrenia get less severe with age, especially if an outright cure is never found. I know some people with mental health issues like autism spectrum and others don’t care to be cured.  For me I would give practically anything to be cured from schizophrenia.  I would even sign up for experimental treatments and procedures if they ever became available.

In other news, I have gotten more focused and serious about dieting and exercise.  I lost thirteen pounds in the last two and half months.  I am back into exercising almost every day as my back is no longer hurting from my car accident.  I got my car fixed as good as ever.  I’m also sitting down and planning out my goals for 2016 as the year 2015 is drawing to a close in a few days.  I accomplished several of my goals for this year, namely getting my amateur radio license back, having more blog posts and visitors this year than 2014, got to be in my best friend’s wedding party, read a few dozen books and audio books, completed a couple free courses on khan academy,  stayed out of debt, and built up my savings more.  The biggest goal I didn’t accomplish was my goal of losing sixty pounds.  I weigh the same now as I did at the end of 2014.  So while I didn’t accomplish my biggest goal, I didn’t completely give up the lifestyle change.  I just have to do better in 2016.

Losing Weight on Anti-Psychotic Meds Update

Exactly one year ago today, March 17 2014, I started on my plan to lose weight and get back into good health.  This was not a whim or a vague hope that “I hope I get this done” or “I need to get lose weight.”  I actually sat down, wrote my goal weight and gave myself a time frame of five years to accomplish this.  I stated that I will lose at least 200 pounds before March 17, 2019.  One year has passed.  In one year I have lost 70 pounds, my resting heart rate has dropped at least 15 points, my blood pressure is down enough I don’t need blood pressure meds, I can now walk 45 minutes per day without problems, and I’m down 2 full sizes in all my clothing.  These positive changes were done even while on anti-depressants.

One of the most common side effects of anti-psychotic medications and anti-depressants is weight gain.  I gained at least 200 pounds in 14 years during the course of treatment for schizophrenia.  I did try to lose weight a few times in those 14 years, but those efforts were half hearted and had no real commitment.  I believed that weight gain was inevitable because it was statistically proven that weight gain was a high possibility.  It wasn’t until I decided to ‘lose weight or get busy dying’ that plans started to formulate.  I asked myself ‘why do I want to lose weight.’  My answers were a) there’s so much cool things I haven’t gotten to see or do yet, b) i don’t want to be one of these guys who ends up on a motorized cart by age 40 and dead by age 45, and c) i have too much going for me to just give up and wait for death.  I’ll go into more detail on these reasons.

There really is so much more cool stuff I want to see and do.  Sure I’ve made friends from all over the country and the world during my years in college.  But I would absolutely love to visit at least some of these people in their home states and even home countries.  Wasn’t going to happen with me in poor health and suffering from sleep apnea.  I flew on an air liner once when I was seventeen.  I remember how uncomfortable those seats were even as a kid.  The poor stewardess would have probably taken one look at me and thought ‘it would be easier for this guy to fly as live freight 🙂 ‘  Taking a train is really not a good option as USA has probably the worst passenger train service in the developed world.  I always envied Europe and Japan as a guy could just get practically anywhere on high speed rail with less headaches than driving and cheaper than flying.  I wasn’t going to be traveling anywhere with as much as I weighed one year ago.  It’s still a work in progress, but in a couple years when I’m down much more than yes I will make it a point to travel more.  Laugh all you want, but I have never been in the eastern half of USA.  Farthest east I’ve ever been is the Mississippi River.

The motorized cart and early grave options were not appealing, to say the least.  Now I’m down 70 pounds, they are even less so.  Living in low income housing with mostly senior citizens and people on disability, I see people in poor health every day.  Every one of these people were young once and in good health.  Many of these people made lifestyle decisions that contributed to the loss of their health.  Some got involved in drugs, some became alcoholics, many ate way too much and did way too little exercise, and some just gave up on life when they got a diagnosis of a health or mental problem.  Some of these people are really sad cases that are literally waiting for death.  That’s a real terrible way to live.  I don’t know if there is an afterlife or if my Hindu friends are right in that we keep coming back in one form or another.  But I know I’m alive and I exist right here and and right now.  That is what I know I have.  And I refuse to let it slip away.  The fact that I was conceived and came out as a human, why I won the genetic/cosmic lottery jackpot on that alone.  I had a far better chance being a chunk of granite or a cockroach than being a member of the self aware and curious species we humans are.  I, and all humans, have the winning lottery ticket.  We just have to cash it in and enjoy the good fortune.

Mental Illness or no, I still have much going for me.  I still maintained most of my natural intelligence.  The thing I really miss is the mathematic ability.  It’s kind of tough trying to do calculus (or even multiply large numbers) when the voices in my mind are trying to figure the problem out as well and are all on different parts of the problem 🙂  That’s the big part of my intelligence I lost.  Surprisingly, everything else is still intact.  No I can’t manage stress well and I have a hard time decoding body language and office politics.  I was recently asked by my therapist what I would do for work if I was cured.  I blurted out I would go into financial management because that’s what I studied in college.  After some thought, that’s not what I would do.  If by some act of God and/or science I were to have a complete recovery, I’d go to a trade school and learn how to set up computer networks and do IT work.  I could take skills like this and work literally without borders.  I could start my own business and charge people quite a bit to do the nuts and bolts computer work that many people simply don’t want to.  Other good skills that would be seriously worth considering are electrician, plumbing, welding, carpentry, and mechanics.  Should any of my readers be getting out of high school soon and want to go on to college afterward, seriously consider going into the trades through a trade school or a community college.  The costs of a trade school are much lower than a four year college and you’ll definitely have a skill that will make you employable from day one.  I studied business management in college in part because I had to give up my dream of medical research and also because I  had absolutely no training in money, budgeting, finance, or accounting in high school.  Mental illness or no, I really screwed myself not studying for a specific job in college.  The budgeting skills and money management I learned in college has come in handy as I have learned to hunt for bargains, not get into debt, become streamlined and a minimalist, and still live quite well on less than $15,000 a year.  Learn from the older man with a few years of experience under his belt.  Don’t make the assumption I did twelve years ago that ‘any degree is a good degree.’  Simply isn’t so.  As much as college costs anymore, you have to make it pay off.

Year One in the process of this lifestyle overhaul is in the history books.  I still have at least two more years of work ahead of me.  But a solid foundation is laid.  Now it’s time to keep building on it.  Let’s see what Year Two brings.  Stay tuned.

Goals, Past Regrets, Looking Back on 2013 and Looking Ahead to 2014

2013 has come and gone.  We have recently celebrated the beginning of a new year.  With new years come, for many people, resolutions.  I personally have never been big on setting new year resolutions as most people I know never follow through.  Yet I feel different about this year, the year 2014.

The reason I feel different about setting goals, rather than calling them resolutions, is that I have been essentially drifting with whatever way the winds of my mental illness toss me ever since I left a good job over a year and a half ago.  The job I had, while hardly high paying or even full time, gave me a sense of purpose and a reason for leaving the apartment every day.  Leaving that job was one of the dumbest decisions I ever made.  I may have not made much money from it, the job may have been simple and low prestige, but it gave me a reason for getting out and mingling with people.  In fact I was doing more creative writing while I was working than when I left.  Having all the time in the world free often leads to not doing anything with that time, or having a lack of direction or purpose.  

I trace many of my problems with depression in 2013 directly to not having much direction in my life.  While there are many people out there, mentally ill or not, who don’t need a job or volunteer work to have direction in their lives I’m not one of them.  I know now I need something outside of myself to allow for some sort of structure in my day to day life.  Otherwise I’ll just rot from the inside out, physically and mentally.

My first goal for 2014 is to find a part time job.  I would prefer something where I could work in a small group or even alone without much interaction with the public.  I never did very well at customer service jobs, fast food jobs, etc.  After a dozen plus years of working with a mental illness I have figured out what kind of work I’m not good at.  I would like to find a job by the end of February, but with my checkered work history this may be pressing it.

My second goal for 2014 is get to the gym more often.  Sure I go once or twice a week as it is now, but I want to go more often.  I always feel good after going.  I don’t know why I don’t go more often.

Finally, I want to write more in 2014 than I did in 2013.  I didn’t get much finished last year.  I want to change that this year.  I am going to change that.  The only way to make any goals stick is to go after it whole heartedly and without regret.